Color of Money Live: Love, money and your job

Mar 22, 2018

Join Washington Post nationally syndicated personal finance columnist Michelle Singletary for an online discussion.

“Knowledge isn’t power. The right knowledge is power.”

Stay informed.

Read & share Michelle Singletary’s Color of Money Column on Wednesdays and Sundays: http://wapo.st/michelle-singletary

Follow Michelle Singletary on Twitter (@SingletaryM) and Facebook www.facebook.com/MichelleSingletary

Did you survive the storm?

Dog, kids and husband had snow day yesterday and it was quite nice having everyone just hanging out. 

Anyway, got a storm in your finances?

Or love to hear you weigh in on the topic of my newsletter today. Would you dump your honey for more money on your job? 

And of course always love Thursday Testimonies. 

Let's get started.

I have been inconsistent in my path to saving. I didn't start materially until 35 (401K or anything) for several reasons (school, to be honest, being a fool). I woke up, buckled up and saved with discipline and vigor for the past 5 years, accumulating $500K. I've saved $105K this year, mostly post tax from bonus, options, regular savings. I will be able to save another ~20K but would like to splurge on a few expensive items (vacation, car). Life is truly short and I think you have to enjoy it. Am I being a fool? Only debt is mortgage and have appropriate cover for life happens.

You are not being a fool for enjoying some of your money now. As long as you 

-- Have a good start on an emergency fund

-- Have some money in a life happens fund, which is different than the if-I-lose-my-job emergency fund. Life happens is for the car repair you didn't expect, etc.

-- On track to save well for retirement

-- Got kids and on track to save well for their college education

-- No credit card debt or personal loans outstanding (I'll allow an auto loan)

You appear to have all that covered have some fun. 

P.S. If you get the car, pay cash.

I'm not a millennial (I'm in that weird time between X and Y), but I have definitely made romantic decisions because of work. Several years ago there was a person I worked with and we were clearly on a path to dating. But, in the end, I decided it wasn't a good idea. Because I knew the next step in my career was a promotion that would have put me as in this person's managerial line. I wouldn't have been able to take that step had we been dating. And as much as I liked the person, I'm really glad I made the decision. I love my job, I loved the promotion I eventually did get, and I loved the next job I got because of the experience I gained in the job I was promoted to. It wasn't about the money. I spend the majority of my waking hours at work. I don't need to get 100% of my fulfillment in my job, but I do really need to like it.

Read Michelle's column: Would you dump your honey for this much more money?

I'm not mad at you for your decision, especially since you weren't giving up what you didn't really have. 

Anyone else in similar situation? Thoughts?

I wrote in a few weeks ago about finding a Starbucks giftcard for $50. I spoke with the store manager where it was found and left my phone number in case anyone claimed it but no one has. (They said they have no way to track the owner even if they pay by credit card so be sure to register your giftcards.) I decided to pay it forward by using half the money to buy coffee for deserving coworkers and writing a check for 1/2 to Martha's Table. I'm sorry for the person that lost the card but hopefully some good comes out of it.

Wow. Thanks for the update. 

Can I be honest? You are better than me. I would has so used it when the owner couldn't be found. Actually would have given to my daughter who loves Starbucks. I've probably purchased like 2 things in my life (Don't drink coffee and make my tea at home)

What you did was so very generous. 

Hi Michelle, I've been saving to buy a sofa and I think I have one in mind. My question is about store credit cards -- are they a good idea? If I open a store credit card, I would save 10%, or around $200. But I probably wouldn't shop at this store again, and does another card make me more vulnerable? I'm not worried about my credit rating, which is good, just more about making myself more open to credit theft. I'd love to know your thoughts on this type of card. Thanks.

There are 3 things you said that make me say it's okay for you to get the card:

1. You are making a large purchase and the discount is big money.

2. You have a good credit score. Although opening up new credit can bring down your score a little, if your score is 720+ you don't need to be worried.

3. You won't be tempted to use the card anymore.

As for being vulnerable to identity thieves, you can just cancel the card after you've charged what you need. 

And cancelling will not impact your score if you are not carrying ANY credit card debt. 

Is the $99 Identity Protection program by Experian a good investment? Is it necessary? Is there a better or less expensive place to buy it from?

I've tried identity theft protection in the past and didn't find it useful. 

You can watch your credit reports yourself. 

The problem with the services for me is that they can only alert you to an issue AFTER the fact. It doesn't stop identity theft. 

I also watch my credit scores. Discover has a free credit score platform that I really like. 

Now, if you've been a victim of identity theft better route is to put a credit freeze on your accounts. Or if you are really worried get a credit freeze, which shuts down your credit reports. No lender can pull it to approve credit. This is a much more effective way of locking out identity thieves. 

Thanks for the follow-up and for being so honest and generous. A question: you say that you wrote a check for half for Martha's Table - so did you use half of it for coffee for yourself and and then give the money that saved you to Martha's Table? I'm all about the details!?!

That's what I assumed. Poster?

Is this a good idea for almost $40k in debt from a credit union cc and two American Express credit cards?

What do you mean?

Do you mean the lender has charged off the debt? Or, more likely,  you mean should you want to file for bankruptcy protection?

Just FYI, if the latter you'll have to get credit counseling and depending on your income you may not be able to file Chapter 7 and wipe out the debt. You may have to file Chapter 13 and that puts you in a payment plan for 5 to 7 years.

Go to debtadvice.org and make an appointment with a non-profit credit counselor, which you would have to do anyway. Of course I don't know your income, but I have worked with folks who paid off $40,000 and it didn't take them 5 years. Plus, and this is the financial mama in me, think about what you are asking. Unless you have no reasonable way to pay back this money, you are asking whether you can get out of paying debt you owe. You got stuff or services for that $40,000 and if you can, because you have meaningful employment, you should pay it back. Will it be hard? Sure it will be. But it's your debt. 

If you're like me, you have a routine for paying bills. Make sure you get this paid on time - maybe even immediately. The last thing you need is to have that interest and late payment fee because it's a one off and outside of your normal bill paying.

Absolutely. Good point. Often these store cards come with free credit for 12 months, 18 months, etc. But the interest is still accruing. If you are one second late in paying off the card, you get hit with all that back interest. 

He wrote that he used "half the money for coffee for deserving co-workers."

But the question was what happened to the remaining $25. 

$25 was used for co-workers. Then the person wrote a check to charity for $25. That would leave $25 left on the card if I was reading that right. 

Hi Michelle, I have been given advice to charge off credit card debt on two credit cards I have, with debt totaling a bit under $40k. I was in a debt management program which would have me pay off the debt in five years but was told this wasn’t a great option because five years is a long time and I would be paying over $10k to the debt management company at the end of the day. I was told charged off debt can be removed from the credit reports in two years. My question is, is this a good idea and what are the longer term ramifications to charging off debt? I was drowning in this credit card debt despite options to lower interest rates and payments.

Who is telling you all this?

And why is 5 years too long to pay debt you owe. Yes, it's probable that the debt was sold to a collection company. But still your debt even if the owner changed hands.

The fact that you were in a debt management program and didn't finish concerns me. You had a plan. You should have stuck with it. 

But if you aren't in anymore, you could save a lump sum of money and make an offer to the debt collection company to settle the remaining balance. 

And debt isn't removed in 2 years. When you default on debt it takes 7 years for it to be dropped from your credit files. 

Who are you talking to?

I am an old adult (67), not a young one, but my sweetheart/fiance/husband and I had to make those decisions as we proceeded in our relationship. We ended up having a commuter marriage for the first five years of our marriage. Finally when we were each assigned to different continents, not just different cities, for our jobs, we said "enough is enough" and he quit his job to come with me. It all worked out fine, and we are about to celebrate our 32nd anniversary. What made it work was that we were not interested in having kids. It's manageable to have a commuter marriage, but far harder if children are involved, and we just were not up for that. Plus side: we were able to save a lot for retirement, and we now love being doting aunt and uncle to the nieces and nephews and their kids. Hubby eventually went back to work in a different field, has now had that second career for 17 years as we finally reached a point where we have been in one place for that long. We feel like we have it all, honestly, but it all started with that decision for each of us to follow our careers and be ok with flying to see each other for the weekend every couple weeks. Not for everyone but it worked for us.

So glad it worked out for you. My husband and I were apart for a good part of the first year of our marriage. He was in Lynchburg, Va. I was in the DMV area. I was of course working at the Post. I tried to find a job in Lynchburg but couldn't. So he started looking up here. It was a hard time for both of us and I was so glad when he found work and could move. Been happily married for nearly 27 years and would never want to be apart from him again. 

I mean the man is so fine and my best friend. 

I mean not paying the cc debt and have the cards charged off. This was advice I was given to do instead of using a debt management program which would have me pay off the debt in 5 years but pay over $10k to the company in fees. Is filing bankruptcy if I qualify a better way to go?

Okay, stop talking to whomever you are talking to. 

The creditor isn't just going to let it go. Sure the original creditor might charge it off but you will be hunted by whatever company buys the debt. And that company could get a judgment against you and garnish your wages.

Plus what you want to do is just not right. I know that may be hard to hear when you are struggling under the weight of this debt. But it's the truth.

Whatever reason you accumulated this debt, do what you can to help settle it. Go to debtadvice.org and set up the payment plan. 

And again, if you make a decent amount of money you will not be able to wipe out the debt. You will be put in a Chapter 13 that also requires a 5 to 7 year plan to pay back the debt. 

Question: Why do you have $40,000 in CC debt?

I opened a Crate&Barrel credit card when I bought patio furniture, and saved a bundle. It is the only store cc I have. It's my favorite online store, and I use it whenever I purchase from C&B, and get bonus points. No complaints. As another poster said, because I use it irregularly, I do put a reminder on my calendar to check if I have a balance. The interest rate is high, and I make sure I pay it off every month. In general, I do advise before signing up for any card to check that the cc in question does not have an annual fee.

You could also set up an automatic payment so that you don't forget.

I was really taken aback by this article in the Post last week about sales that aren't really sales. http://wapo.st/2G9RUlJ I don't like to shop (don't like to spend money!) but sometimes you have to for big ticket items and this was quite an eye-opener!

Like I've always said, "You never save when you spend."

Yes, with a sale you "might" spend less but the acting of spending is not saving.

And the report didn't surprise me. I've long felt that sale items weren't really on sale. 

A person who works to clean up items on your credit report for a fee. They advised of this and said once the debt had been charged off they could remove it from my credit report in three years. From your response I am assuming all of this is not good advice and I should reapply for the debt management program.

Oh my goodness. Now I get it. This is a debt relief company. STAY AWAY! RUN! RUN!

I'm using caps because just what you told me that they told you was FALSE, which means they are unscrupulous. These companies cannot clean up your credit report. If the defaults are real they can't be removed and certainly not in 3 years. Plus by law they cannot charge you fees upfront. 

What they were recommending is that you stop paying, give them hundreds if not thousands of dollars so that they can maybe help you offer a settlement. But that's no guarantee. And the money you pay them you can use to pay off your debt. 

BUT by not paying you are making things worse. And many of these companies are scams. 

Yes, go back to the non-profit and set up the debt repayment plan.

Why? Which debt management company? It is a non-profit, or just one of the ones that is a front for the credit card companies? Is that $10K the interest or on top of the interest you are paying? If on top of the interest, that is unconscionable. The IRS cleaned up the non-profit part of that industry a while ago, but there is no guarantee that bad actors haven't started up since then.

Yes, people stay away from these companies. You should not pay upfront fees for a company to so-call "clean up your credit."

They can't do anything that you can't do for yourself. And when I spot one lie, I become suspect of everything the company says. 

If you go the route of a non-profit consumer credit counseling agency you may pay a small fee to set up the plan $20 to $50 and a small monthly fee ($15 to $25) for them to take the money and send to your credits. That's it. Do not pay some company $10,000 or no thousand to help with your debt issue. 

We are expecting our first child later this year, and I'd like to start researching college savings/529 plans to figure out which one might be right for us. Is there a site that you would recommend as a starting place? Would love to be able to see my own state plans alongside plans from other states that do not have residency requirements (so that I don't have to click on 50 different pages).

I send folks to savingforcollege.com 

I have three 529 plans through the Maryland program. 

Don't go through a broker (higher costs) and check to see if you state offers a state tax deduction.

My fiancé and I are renovating a home and planning a wedding. Our wedding budget has ballooned to $35K and we still have about $77K of work left to complete phase one of the reno and both of us will need new or newer cars in the next 2 years (cars btw 10 and 15 yrs old). A HELOC on one of our existing homes will pay about $42K which leave s about $35K to finish the home renovation. Should we scale back on the wedding (this is really my dream wedding) to finalize the reno and get cars or splurge on wedding and scale back renovations?

So, you might not be a regular reader. And if not, I'll be gentle.

If you are borrowing for the home repairs you should not be paying $35,000 for a wedding. Together the improvements and the wedding will cost you more than $100,000. 

That's a gig WOW for me. 

Scale back the renovation and the wedding.

The home: That's a lot of debt to start off your marriage.

The wedding: It's one day. One day. If you had the cash for it all -- cash -- I would say do what you want. But you don't. 

So you are living your dreams on borrowed money.

Not good.

 

My contract is up for renewal in 2 months, and there is a non-zero chance that I'll be out of work for a while if my contract isn't renewed. We could live on just my husband's paycheck (and not dip into our emergency fund or regular savings at all), if he reduced his retirement savings (currently maxing it at the $18500 per year) down to 5% (which gets him all the matching from work). So my question is, is it better to keep contributing the max ($18500) to his 401(k) and live off some of our savings while I'm out of work, or better to reduce his retirement contributions and keep our savings intact? I'm 30, he's 32, if it helps. Thank you!

I would pull back on the retirement savings because you have no idea how long you will be out of work. I would rather you not drain savings you might need if the job search takes longer than you plan.

And because you are so young, you can go right back to aggressively saving for retirement should you find work quickly. 

Dear Michelle: A desperate decision from our pre-retirement years will force us to sell our row house in a few years. How do we decide between purchasing a condo, renting an apartment or seeking senior housing?

I don't have enough time or information to help you make this decision. If you can afford it, this is a good time to meet with a fee-only financial planner and get a plan that includes all the things you need to consider to make the right decision.

Or, go to debtadvice.org and set up an appointment with a budget counselor to help you go over your finances, which will help you make this decision.

Given what happened at the end of last week, it feels appropriate to share this story now. I was scheduled to work from home on my 35th birthday. My boss added a video chat meeting to my calendar the night before. At the start of the chat, he told me that my position was being eliminated and turned his computer to a rep from HR. It's a good thing that I was planning to leave and had another job lined up.

Wow. Another story about a firing that just doesn't seem right. 

So as things stand right now - it seems that women are more willing to sacrifice to focus on family / relationships over career. This is a fascinating part of the survey to me From the Comet survey: “Of the 364 millennials surveyed, men were willing to make most love life sacrifices for roughly half the money women needed to make the same decisions. While men only needed an average raise of $23,000 to delay a relationship, women would only stay single if the raise was $51,000. Women also needed $56,000 more than men to stall marriage, and $50,000 more to delay having children.”

To be fair to the guys this was a small sample.

Indirectly related to the topic ... one thing I *thought* I'd like to convey to my younger female (I am likewise female) relatives is that you do NOT have to have a man to have a good life. (I am likewise single!) And it isn't entirely related to having a high-flying career. I just want them to know that, while it is very prestigious to be married, there's a lot to be said for flying solo as well. I'm never sure how to say this without sounding defensive and sour grapes-ish. I just want them NOT to feel any desperation from the clock ticking. In fact, that is one of the great gifts of singlehood - you just don't feel that clock!

Prestigious to be married? That gave me a laugh.

It's a lot of hard word.

And I would give this advice to men and women. 

But I would also say, that at the end of the day that job won't give you a hug or take care of you in your old age. 

I married for love. I married for security. I married because I wanted to be cared for and care for someone else. 

I have learned that your job cannot be who you are. Never. Because no job is secure anymore. 

Mid career I was offered a significant career enhancing opportunity. However, it would require a relocation to Australia. I had been there on business, knew the people that I would be working with and it was a great position. One of our children was in grad school, the other was an undergrad. They were all for it. My wife was very candid in her assessment. She could not be that far away from the kids. I needed her 100% buy in for the move and I respected her position. I respectfully declined the offer. While I still had a good career, I often wonder what my career would have been if I had taken the job. But, I recognized to be successful in anything I did, I depended on and needed spousal support.

Love, love, love your story. 

I wouldn't trade my family or husband -- or the harmony of my family life -- for any job or promotion. They will always be there for me. This job, any job won't. It just won't. 

The Feds raised the interest rates again the other day. Not necessarily a bad thing, unless you have a flexible rate on your HELOC. Every time the Fed raises rates, so does my interest rate. My HELOC has climbed from 3% to 4.25% over the past couple years. I was slowly paying off my new kitchen and roof, but the interest is getting close to what I am making on some conservative investments, and I decided to just pull the money from my IRA (I am retired) and pay it off.

This is I'm not a fan of debt. 

As long as you know what the item you want is normally worth, or what it's usually "on sale" for, it's not that bad. I figure if the item I want is being sold for the price I think is about right and what I'm willing to pay, I don't care what they call the sale. I remember Macy's being mentioned in that article, and yes they are a big abuser. But I still buy a particular clothing item from them because I like it and watch the prices when I want it.

As l long as you are aware.

Hi Michelle, thank you for taking the time to answer questions on Thursday's. I really enjoy your columns! I am 2 years out of college and fighting the student loan battle (I've knocked my total down to about $11k down from about $24k between me making over-payments from my own paychecks and help from family!). I've been trying to save money in several accounts (Roth IRA, savings accounts for several purposes such as life happens fund, eventual grad school, travel, etc.) I recently hit my first milestone goal for my travel account which is something I am extremely proud of. While I am not planning to take this trip until summer or early fall, I am excited to watch it continue to grow and can't wait to decide on where I want to go!

Thank you for your testimony.

But you are not going to take that trip until all the debt is gone, right? Because otherwise I would rather see you use that money to pay off  ALL that education debt.

You are correct- Apprisen is a non profit and it’s a $50 set up fee and abt $20 a month fee. They gave me a break down of total cost to be in the plan on top of my debt owed and it’s abt $10k more than my debt owed for the life of the 5 years they estimated it would take me to pay off the almost $40k in debt. Does this make sense or should I look into another company on debtadvice.org?

You can get another quote to see if another company might get you a better deal but that $10,000 is probably the interest, which you owe when you use credit cards. 

But yes, the fees for the debt payment plan are reasonable and in line.

Also consider that this is a secured loan. You are putting your home up as collateral. IT's just not worth it. Michelle was indeed gentle with you - do not do this to yourself. Scale back the wedding drastically - think of it as about having you community witness your commitment to each other - and only do home renovations that are necessary. And by necessary I mean - you can't live without them like a working loo, not something old and ugly but functional. Do not saddle yourself with this secured debt.

Yes, yes and yes!

Your wedding budget didn't "balloon to 35k"...you decided to spend that kind of money. My wedding was $3k at the local park. We are just as much married as folks who spend $20k or more. In some cases, been married longer. I have a cousin who was divorced before they even finished paying for the wedding.

Wow.

My husband found some significant amount ($50, I think) on the street in Arlington. His thinking was that it wasn't *his* money, so he sent it with an explanatory note to a nearby church that is known for its generosity to the poor. I found $20 on the street on the way to church and put it in the collection basket. Not a big deal. Found money is just found, not yours.

Or yours and you decided to spend it on charity. 

Your comment about no job being secure really resonates with me. I do my job and I do it well, but it by no means defines who I am. I have a colleague that is the exact opposite - no friends outside of work, super invested in every nuance of decisions that are made, etc. Her position changed recently and I'm sure it rocked her entire world. Had it happened to me I would've just shrugged my shoulders, tried the new job, and if it wasn't what I wanted I would find something else. I don't understand people that are so married to their jobs that they sacrifice their life. (Much like watching TV) I'm pretty sure no one is ever on their death bed wishing that they had worked more.

Exactly!

Hi Michelle! I paid off student loans for my nieces. They are paying me back in dribs and drabs, but the reality is I don't really care and at the rate they are paying back they will never be paid off. Which seems a better option--tell them the loans are forgiven now; take the payments and invest to be given back in the future; leave it alone and forgive the balances as part of my estate?

Let it go. Give them the gift of not having to worry about paying auntie back. Because it should have been a gift not a loan anyway. 

I'm surprised by your answer in part because the poster didn't say whether they plan to pay off the card in full. I would say that if the poster doesn't plan to pay it off, then shouldn't them hold off until they have the cash for a sofa? If they have it and just want to save the extra money then I would say go for it!

Well, I assumed the card is like many of the offers where you can pay it off with no interest.

But you are right. If you can't pay off the balance the next month or it's not a 0% card for however long, save the money to buy the sofa.

Thank you so much for joining me today. Hope you come back next week. 

In This Chat
Michelle Singletary
Michelle Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column, "The Color of Money," which appears in The Post on Wednesday and Sunday and is carried in more than 120 newspapers.

Read recent columns
Subscribe to Michelle's newsletter
Color of Money Q&A Archive
Recent Chats
  • Next: